Ward’s Automotive Reports moves online after 96 years in print

Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press, Published 7:00 a.m. ET Feb. 1, 2019 | Updated 9:23 a.m. ET Feb. 1, 2019

One of the auto industry’s longest-running institutions just ended. Ward’s Automotive Reports, the 96-year-old weekly newsletter that helped create the craft of automotive journalism, published its last issue Jan. 28, after breaking news since 1924.

Shorthanded WAR by the abbreviation-crazed auto industry, the newsletter got its start publishing production figures for the vehicle plants scattered across Detroit in the booming 1920s.

Initially named Cram’s Reports for its founder’s last name, the newsletter fed investors’ appetite for information on the hot new industry. Cram’s president Al Ward assigned reporters and editors to hang out by the factory gates, asking workers how many Model Ts, etc. they built each day.

Automakers eventually realized it was in their interest to report official production figures, and WAR’s decades-long run as the self-described “Bible of the auto industry” began.

“Al Ward was the genius behind it all,” said David C. Smith, retired Ward’s editorial director. “He hired reporters who’d go out to get the news, not just wait around for what the companies wanted to tell them.” Ward later bought the company and changed the newsletter’s name.

Innovations

A 1944 issue of Ward’s Automotive Reports. (Photo: Tom Murphy/Ward’s Auto)

WAR was noteworthy for many things, including:

  • Colored paper. Originally yellow, later brown, the paper was a holdover from the early 20th century when it was difficult to copy colored pages.
  • Pages of data on everything from production of various body styles to trends in engine and transmission use.
  • Short, dense text blocks that packed lots of information into a small space.
  • An insistence that everything be written in the present tense, to make the news seem immediate.

WAR became the primary source for all manner of news and data from the plants, suppliers and engineering centers. It spun off several other publications under the Wards Auto umbrella, which today includes conferences and research reports. (And, for the eagle-eyed reader, the organization no longer uses the apostrophe used in the newsletter name.)

WAR published data suppliers used to plan their own production. Dealers studied the figures to see what was selling, how the competition was doing and whether the factory was about to shove extra trainloads of a slow-selling car down their throats.

A 1924 edition of Cram’s Confidential, the publication that evolved into Wards Automotive Reports. (Photo: Tom Murphy/Ward’s Auto)

A year’s subscription to WAR cost $50 when Ward’s hired Smith away from his job as Free Press business and auto editor in 1970. It was about $2,000 when publication ceased this week.

WAR’s circulation was one of the auto industry’s most closely guard?s edition in the anteroom to every senior executive’s office.

“It brings a small tear to my eye,” Smith said. “WAR broke a lot of news because it had data and statistical expertise nobody else had back then.”

Sweating every detail

A cake decorated to look like the final issue of Ward’s Automotive Reports: Jan. 28, 2019. (Photo: Tom Murphy/WardsAuto)

My first job in automotive journalism was at Wards. Not at WAR, but reporting and editing publications focused on technology, engineering and strategy. The WAR team was something to behold, agonizing to the last decimal point, turning reams of faxed production figures into data that defined the auto industry and pounding the keys of mechanical adding machines.

People stayed at WAR for decades, including a managing editor who wore an honest-to-God green eyeshade that looked like it belonged on a 1920s banker.

WAR’s name is the only thing that’s disappearing. Wards will continue to offer online subscribers the data they got in WAR, and more. WAR switched from hard copy to PDF a couple of years ago. Now all the information is migrating to Wardsintelligence.com.

“Al the news, analysis and data will be available online,” Wards Intelligence managing director John Sousanis said.

“WAR established Wards expertise in the market for decades. That DNA is still in all our information. Our mission is to provide data about the auto industry to the auto industry.”

 

Contact Mark Phelan: mmphelan@freepress.com or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan

This article was originally written for the Detroit Free Press and can be found hereFor more information about how Marx Layne & Company can elevate your brand, please visit our expertise page here.

By |2019-02-04T18:13:32+00:00February 4th, 2019|

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